Matcha Matcha Man

A healthy classic from Japan is inspiring a new kind of green movement stateside.

Plenty of health fads go like this: flashy food gets a publicist, becomes famous overnight, disappears forever. Then there are the legit healthy heros — the less-hyped-yet-hard-working kind that go about quietly for years before finally getting their moment. For matcha (pronounced MAH-cha), in the U.S. at least, that moment is now. A centuries-old Japanese staple, matcha is whole-leaf green tea that’s been ground into fine powder and boasts absurdly impressive health benefits. Traditionally whisked with hot water, it’s Japan’s veritable cup of joe — with the potential to be yours soon too. 

Matcha lattes — hot or iced — are now served at mega-chain Starbucks as well as smaller coffee- and teahouses like the newly opened Dr. Tea’s Tea Garden & Herbal Emporium in LA, where herb master Hiroko Ogura touts the green powder for its more stable caffeine high. “It contains L-theanine, which is calming so you feel focused but more balanced,” she says. At Matcha Source in West Hollywood, a new shop devoted to all things matcha, you can find hand-thrown ceremonial bowls and blending accessories to make your own frothy lattes at home. You can also pick up a matcha cookbook because, yes, matcha has moved beyond the beverage.

You'll find the the pistachio hue tingeing pastries like macaroons, cupcakes and truffles. And chefs nationwide (Michael Voltaggio, Daniel Patterson, David Myers, and Ludo Lefebvre among them) are using the verdant powder to spike dishes both savory and sweet. A home-grown how-to for a carmelized matcha-toast crunch has even surfaced on Youtube.
 
Aside from its fresh, grassy taste and Easter-worthy cast, matcha’s many health benefits are a good reason to give it a try. Green tea has long been tagged for its metabolism-revving effects, which are largely attributed to its most active catechin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). “There’s strong evidence that EGCG has fat-burning properties,’’ says integrative health specialist Susan Blum, MD, founder of Blum Center for Health. “And the amount of EGCG in matcha is at least 3 times greater than that in other green teas,  partly because you ingest the whole leaf.” This provides a greater antioxidant payoff too.

Meanwhile, that aforementioned amino acid, L-theanine, is also thought to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can contribute to belly fat. But that’s not all: EGCG has anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet, and anti-thrombotic effects, says Blum. “In simple language, animal studies have shown it prevents the growth of tumors and prevents both atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease by making blood platelets and cholesterol less sticky,” she explains. All good reasons to get a little matcha in your life. A few delicious ways: